Lego, Enterprise apps, Design, SOA and Hasso Plattner.

My house is full of Lego. It is fabulous stuff unless you step on it in the dark without any shoes on. McKendrick on ZDNET, whose blog is well worth a regular read, brings up the Lego analogy in the SOA context.

Is LEGO block-building a valid analogy for SOA application building? I think it very adequately captures the essence of what SOA is about, though it’s understood that SOA building is much more complex. ‘Erector set’ of course may better describe it, because it involves some nut-and-bolts work rather than simply “snapping” components together.

Perhaps we could pull some definitions together and conclude that the ‘enterprise’ is a series of interconnected businesses that can be snapped together on demand, like LEGO blocks, to serve specific market needs as they arise

Lots of other folks use the Lego analogy. If you Google SOA and Lego you would think that Lego is an SOA company.

Potsdam University, near Berlin, has received considerable funding from Hasso Plattner, An SAP founder and former CEO. He also lectures there a lot, and is determined to help build the next generation of software developers and designers at the HPI. Hasso also does a lot at Stanford. Having been one of the original SAP founders you could forgive him for getting out the pipe and slippers, but he seems busier than ever now. He keeps an eye out for new ideas for SAP, but he has a real passion for the next generation.

As an aside, speaking of Lego, there is a project going on at the HPI to make the .NET run-time available on the Lego Mindstorm platform. By the time my kids get a bit older, I may find myself stepping on a global supply chain. SAP on a Lego brick here we come.

But seriously, watch Hasso Plattner talking about design. It isn’t a presentation aimed at financial investors and analysts, but at the developers and designers of the future. It may give you a different insight into SAP.

There is a full 90 minute lecture on the HPI site (you will need serious bandwidth to download it) and a shorter highlight cast. (He has a wicked suit on)

It is a brilliant lecture, he speaks with a deep passion, and a profound grasp of the history and the future of our industry. I’d suggest that every single SAP employee listens to this, in fact anyone in software should, whether you are a SOA wizard, or deeply into user experience, or even better, both.

About quarter of the way through he made this comment.

The Lego bricks are not the model for corporate or enterprise software. Lego bricks are not the model for architectural models. No architect in the world uses Lego for models, and they are a few magnitudes simpler than enterprise software.

And later he said.

The ones that are running around and saying this is bricks and we just put them together are misleading you, regardless of how prominent they are

I’ll take a bet, I put money on it…that I’m right.

There is lots more to this podcast, but if Hasso says stop talking about Lego in the context enterprise software, then perhaps he is worth listening to. No more pictures of Lego on slide 567.

Other tidbits from Hasso….. The coffee cup story is a classic, as is the Porsche Cost Accounting programme grinding the production to a halt, the fingernail incident, people centric design, big companies and innovation, Excel, Kitchens, SOA, Complexity, Hackers R Us, Spiderwebs, the design process, IDEO, desirability, vitality, feasibility, most software is hated, outside-in, Apple, Steve Jobs, Engineering and Design relationship, Waterfall methods sucked 30 years ago, SAP naming conventions, distributed databases in the 1990’s, ideological thinking, prototypes, the history of ABAP, Dietmar Hopp, Powerpoint, SOA is not a value in itself, a demo of a SAP-GIS mashup-composite thingy, post its, and a video clip about a design workshop at SAP Labs, empathy first, we had the luck to have our first office at the customer, I learnt everything about account receivables by watching, and he finishes with a neat SAP Bash.

I’ve read Jeff’s post about the culture of complexity and I’d agree that often we make things too complicated, but then, watching Hasso, one point struck me. He said something like cars today are much better than cars from the 1950’s, they are also a lot more complicated.

As Einstein said, everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

Disclaimer: Lego is an SAP customer!

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21 thoughts on “Lego, Enterprise apps, Design, SOA and Hasso Plattner.

  1. Yes, cars today are more complicated but they are more safe, higher performance, cleaner, reliable, comfortable, and more reliable than their 1950’s counterparts… and the user never has to deal with the complexity (unless you have a BMW with iDrive!).

    Can the same be said of enterprise software? Have all the gains of the last decade resulted in software applications that hide their complexity from users? If so, why isn’t SAP itself not running Duet instead of CATS?

    BTW, and you know how much I respect Hasso, but he is flat out wrong to continue to use automobile analogies as applied to software. Put another way, if the automotive industry was like enterprise software your new car would come to you in boxes of parts and because many of them wouldn’t be compatible you would hire a machine shop, engineer, and a mechanic to put it all together.

  2. Jeff-Roman
    I’ll check on when Duet is due to go live internally. I know it is planned.

    Managing complexity remains the biggest challenge. The industry has a long way to go, and I think we can learn alot from other engineering disiplines about components and standardisation.

    Hasso’s call for a design mentality is exactly spot on. Check the Hackers R US section in the clip…

  3. Yikes, that hit a nerve – the Lego analogy.

    Took all Lego mention off the thingamy site! Think he’s quite right on that one – it should be more like clay… yep, that would be closer if I have to stay with analogies.

    But hey, what about those blasted “Best Business Practices” I seem to remember from SAP sales material?
    Are those not kind-of-prebuilt Lego models? Worse than Lego blocks in loose form I would say! And certainly not moldable clay at all, more like clay post-oven that.

  4. Wisdom – “the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period”… hmmm still smacks of “predefined blocks”… hehe.

    Looking forward to Christmas post! Ah, that’ll mean I’ll have to do my own on the very clever crowd’s manifestation of current software ;)

    Let the Christmas games commence!

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